“Floating world pictures,” or ukiyo-e (浮世絵), thrived in Japan during the Edo period (1603–1868), mainly in the form of mass-produced color woodcuts. The students who curated this exhibition chose to present a selection of ukiyo-e prints in vertical format. The Japanese word sukima (隙間) refers to a crack or gap, such as the narrow space created by a partially opened sliding door. These prints produce the impression of glimpsing through a door ajar, exciting the viewer’s imagination.
Tall, narrow ukiyo-e prints (about 28 inches high by 5 inches wide) were called hashira-e (柱絵), or pillar images, because they originally hung on pillars in the interiors of traditional homes as affordable substitutes for painted scrolls. Pillar prints flourished in the 1700s and early 1800s, later giving way to designs stretching over two or three vertically stacked sheets (each about 15 inches by 10 inches). The extended vertical shape prompted designers to create daring compositional arrangements across all major ukiyo-e genres: pictures of beautiful women and actors, warriors and ghosts, close-up views of nature, and images reflecting popular beliefs. All these genres are represented here.
This exhibition was organized by a class of RISD undergraduate students led by Professor Elena Varshavskaya, as part of an ongoing collaboration between RISD faculty and the RISD Museum. Students selected the works for display from the museum’s collection, conducted art historical research, and authored essays and catalogue entries for the volume accompanying the exhibition.